Tag Archives: martin benjamin

Martin Benjamin’s Wespeak: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Earlier this week I linked to Martin Benjamin ’57’s  latest Wespeak (wherein he pretty much directly accuses President Roth and Muslim Chaplain Marwa Aly of being terrorist sympathizers) and discussed Benjamin in general—his language, his seemingly relished notoriety, and his tenuous relationship with Wesleyan as both a student body and some sort of abstract representation of everything wrong with liberal America today. Of particular interest, at least to readers of Tuesday’s Argus, would be his flagrant Islamaphobia.

An anonymous source points out that the Wespeak, as it appears in Tuesday’s Argus, is not quite what Benjamin originally submitted; Argus editors chose to remove not to print key passages  deemed “excessively vulgar” and “blatant[ly] Islamaphobic” in tone. Whether the piece is really less vulgar with these passages withheld is entirely up for debate. Our intent is neither to support nor condemn the Argus‘s decision to censor—their policy to “withhold Wespeaks that are excessively vulgar” is entirely subject to editorial discretion. (Edit: EIC Katherine Yagle ’12 points out that Argus staff did not print the censored version without consulting Benjamin. Rather, they objected to the original submission, returned it to Benjamin with offending passages highlighted, and he resubmitted it with their edits applied.)

But does Benjamin’s piece qualify as “excessively vulgar”? Is it too outrageous and absurd to take seriously in the first place? Decide for yourself. The original “Open Letter to President Roth” is available here. Highlights denote passages removed before publication. Enjoy(?).

(And when you’re totally enraged by his “excessively vulgar” ranting, just remember that the guy also takes pretty pictures of nature.)

Martin Benjamin ’57 Returns, Offends Pretty Much Everyone

Also: has apparently explored the “slippery entrails” of President Roth’s mind. Full story at 6:00.

Class of 2014, meet Martin Benjamin ’57.

I’ll be honest. When some friends at The Argus told me that Benjamin had stopped by the office to hand-deliver his latest Wespeak, I was excited. I love me some Martin Benjamin—like, in that same slightly detached sense that I love cheesy ’80s horror movies and the falafel cart. I love the sweeping, grandiose poetry of his semi-coherent vitriol (to Michael Roth: “you’ll still have me, the diehard whose job it is to interpret the slippery entrails of your mind”). I love his garbled metaphors, spiky similes, fierce wordplay (“God is dead on High [street]”). I love dramatic readings of his most vicious, colorfully worded allegations (describing Michael Roth, or “the Robin Hood of South College,” in Obama’s presence: “you gushed like a teeny-bopper who’d just been goosed by her first crush”).

Who is this guy? If you’re a frosh, I’ll defer to the excellent Benjamin profile in The Argus‘s Who’s Who on Campus, by Justin Pottle ’13:

Martin Benjamin Unmasked (Sort of)

Martin Benjamin ’57, the curmudgeonly alumnus who has developed quite a reputation in recent years as a sharp critic of liberal Wesleyan culture in open letters to the Argus, apparently has a softer side.

When he’s not writing bitter, condescending Wespeaks, he is an artist with a penchant for photographing leaves.

Liz Tung of the Argus went to check out his art exhibit, a series of five photographs called “Invitation to the Dance”, in the Main Street Market last week and actually met the guy, who explained to her the ideas behind his craft, spoke sullenly about his relationship to Wesleyan, and provided only vague hints of his past:

Benjamin was disappointingly normal-looking. Somehow I had expected someone who looked like the Penguin – a snippy, sharp-faced and slightly rotund older man who wore bowties, and carried a heavy wooden cane, the better for whacking whatever liberal moron chanced to get in his way. The real Benjamin was tall and thin with glasses and a beard – and he was wrapped in flannel, rather than a suit. He greeted me and then almost immediately disappeared (the better, he later told me, to let me absorb his works without distraction).

As you may have gathered [from his Wespeaks], Benjamin is a bit of a kook and more than a bit of a bigot, albeit a sharp one with a talent for rhetoric. It is this – the perverse magnetism and novelty of his writing – that has allowed Benjamin to install himself as a fixture in the Argus’ Wespeaks page, and thereby vex generations of Wesleyan students.

To hear Benjamin’s side of it, though, Wespeaks are a mere distraction from his real work – making art. He began photographing leaves roughly 15 years ago, originally as illustrations for a book of historical poems. “Since [the poems] were intended for kids …to get them interested in the drama of history, I thought that history could be illustrated somehow in a way that would make the poems more alive to them,” Benjamin said. “The problem was that I had no talent for painting or drawing.” From this predicament was born Benjamin’s novel solution – leaves… Soon, the photographs had expanded beyond his poems, and the leaves became artistic subjects in their own right.

Benjamin took me through the brief display with a kind of grim relish, explaining in detail the mechanics of his photography and composition…

…Although verbose in his explanations [of his art], Benjamin was less forthcoming on other fronts. For a man who’s spent so much time cultivating his own notoriety, Benjamin proved surprisingly reticent to talk about himself. He refused to have his picture taken and was taciturn about his own history. When pressed, Martin admitted that, after college, he’d spent a couple years in the army before going to Columbia for grad school. Of the years between then and now, he’d only say that he’d spent a few years as a bartender in Midtown, Manhattan. He said anyone who wanted to know more could read his novel “Bagatelles” (which, he only mentioned later, has not yet been published).

Benjamin declined to answer follow-up questions, insisting that further information about his life would only distract from the work.

So he’s about as evasive about himself as you might expect from someone so eager to dish out criticism of others. But it’s nice to see that he has interests beyond excoriating Wesleyan students, and almost endearing that his great passion in life is seeing visions of Greek mythology and Shakesperean sonnets in fallen leaves.

I wonder how he feels about this exposure of his sensitivity. He clearly thrives on antagonism – might Martin Benjamin be so embarrassed by the Argus‘s portrayal of him as a big softy that he stops sending cutting letters to Wesleyan out of shame? Or should we expect him to respond to this taint on his reputation, defending himself as someone who is actually a jerk despite what was reported? Or maybe this shift of focus away from his disdain for joy and youth and towards his art made his day, and any future attempts at haterade from him will lose their edge?

It might be fun to terrify him with effusive Wespeaks praising his gentle soul and unlikely creativity, disarming him with genuinely positive expressions of emotion instead of trying to attack him back with strongly worded responses.

Or next time he rants about the “Great Black Hope” Obama, dismisses global climate change as a frivolous concern, or complains about how gay diversity training is, one might respond with a charming photo of swirling leaves enacting the battle of woodland sprites in The Rape of the Lock.

Whatever the outcome, I look forward to seeing where this goes.

Check out Wesleying’s compilation of some particularly notable Martin Benjamin Wespeaks written over the past decade here, or browse through the Argus archives for more.

Argus: Curmudgeonly Benjamin ’57 Unveils Sensitive Art Exhibit
Wesleying: How to Respond to Martin Benjamin ’57

How to Respond to Martin Benjamin ’57

Ok, it’s fairly obvious that Martin Benjamin has nothing better to do than write bitter, angry Wespeaks because his life peaked in Old Wes. He carefully reads each and every Argus, picking out ammunition for his next bout of conservative diarrhea.

Mr. Benjamin loves taking anecdotal evidence, generalizing it and then applying it to the entire student body. Yes, because one girl could not write a footnote, none of us can. Because some students had trouble in a math class, we all must be morons. Because one group got pissed off at the student body for not showing up to its anti-war rally, we’re all lazy fucks. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The man has something for everyone. He hates on women, minorities, children, poor people, professors, non-heterosexuals…and as one professor he quotes apparently said, we love squabbles.

But before you begin writing your response, I ask you to read all his Wespeaks first. He’s written quite a few in recent history. Here is a list:

Get the idea? I’m sure there are more, but this is all I could find.

The man has nothing better to do than respond to your wespeak. So if you’re going to write one, write a good one. Make it worth your time. You know he’s sitting at home, licking his lips, waiting for the opportunity to write another open letter to Wesleyan.

Secondly, remember that writing to a bitter old man reminding him that his ideas are racist, conservative, sexist, etc, etc, probably won’t change his mind on anything. Though his ideas are, in fact, dated, hardly on the cusp of intellectual enlightenment, and, well, conservative, he’s been thinking that the silver spoon he’s carried in his mouth since birth entitles him to think that whatever he spits out of his mouth is gospel. Take it for what that’s worth.

Thirdly, the best thing you can do in response to Benjamin is keep Wesleyan weird. Wesleyan became special in the hearts of many (albeit not to Benjamin because his heart is probably made of tin) precisely because the student body rejected the “Old” Wesleyan for the spirit of the new. Look through old yearbooks and student newspapers from the late 60’s, early 70’s onwards and you can literally see the transformation. I’m not trying to romanticize the activism or the specific time period, but you can witness a change in what students wanted their Wesleyan degree to stand for. Not the dated ideals of the past, but for the bold, progressive ideas of the future.

So if you still feel you must respond, feel free to shoot the Argus your reply. Use the handy dandy online submission form and have at it.